November 03, 2006

Trusting Adrienne Shelly


Just a quick note about Adrienne Shelly – found dead of an apparent suicide at the age of 40, leaving behind a husband, a three-year-old daughter, and one of my favorite movies of all time.

I’m talking about Hal Hartley’s Trust, of course, and I remember that the first time I saw it back in 1991 on a now-tattered VHS copy I later liberated from the local indie store as it was closing its shutters, how I hadn’t, to that point (I was 18 and still young in cinema), seen anything quite like it. It was an inciting moment for me – an introduction into the world of the American independent ethic and, branching from there, the work of Whit Stillman and Jim Jarmusch. I’m not sure that I would have been as receptive as early to that stuff (and later, a goodly portion of my affection for Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach had to do with the directness of their lines trailing back from Trust) if not for the film: for Martin Donovan (wasting too much time now with garbage like
The Quiet
and “Weeds”) and especially for Shelly.

It wasn’t the quirk that affected me, but the writing and performances: telling too much to say that I connected hard with the depressed television repairman with a grenade and a crush. (Telling, to this day, that there are still large swaths of myself that persists in that identification.) When I learned that Shelly might have hung herself with a bedsheet, I remembered her character Maria’s announcement of her pregnancy leading to the sudden death of her father – and there, vague and filamentous, an emotional, diaphanous connection between her life and this art. I can’t put my finger on it, but I can feel it vibrating in the air.

I haven’t felt this sad about a stranger’s death since Spalding Gray walked into the frozen drink.

Shelly plays a lost soul in Trust that finds grounding with another lost soul – the two agreeing to the compromise of a love relationship while acknowledging the madness of it in a world balanced between acts of kindness, caprice, and enfolding, enveloping entropy. For a long time, every mix tape I made for a girlfriend or potential girlfriend included a sound clip I’d captured from this film involving Donovan’s Matthew character describing his grenade and Maria asking deadpan if he’s mentally deranged. Encapsulated in that small, perfectly-written exchange is volatility and the desperation for connection married, thick as monks, to the idea that the very idea of grace on this ugly, ungainly ball is akin to sublimity itself. Trust is in its way
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind about fifteen years earlier.

The last shot of the film is traffic lights changing over.

I’ve been thinking about that a lot today.

32 comments:

Bill C said...

How odd that one of her last films turned out to be Revolution #9, starring Spalding Gray.

Bemis said...

The cinema I work at is screening Factotum (in which Shelly has a small but memorable role), and the producer spoke after tonight's show. He had nothing but warm things to say about the actress, mentioning that she did a knockout job with an extended monologue that ended up cut from the film in the interest of focusing on "Marisa and Matt."

jer fairall said...

Trust was quite the revelation for me to, at the even more tender age of 13. You're lucky to at least have an old VHS copy of the film on hand, as its been a good 7 or 8 years since I last got to see it. Would love nothing more than to do an Unbelievable Truth/Trust memorial double bill this afternoon, were it possible.

John Candy and Joe Strummer were probably the celebrity passings that hit me the hardest.

rachel said...

This was just sent to me...

Brooklyn Man Charged with Murdering Actress

Bill C said...

Sigh. I knew it. As soon as I heard about the mysterious shoe prints in the shower, I figured there was foul play.

Somehow, this is even sadder.

Walter_Chaw said...

Jesus - this makes me want to puke.

Dave Gibson said...

Rest in peace Adrienne. I saw “The Unbelievable Truth” all-by myself at my dingy rep-cinema in my hometown—not long before it closed. That iconic poster (and the film, natch) of Ms. Shelley is a perfect representation of the early promise in early nineties indie-films and a personal touchstone for the sweet melancholy of my late high school days—Audry Hugo was the type of person I aspired to know. What a gifted, underrated actor—and what a horrible waste. A banal observation but: what the hell is wrong with (some) people? What a horrific, cowardly, terrible act.

Bill C said...

I just noticed the rather unfortunate (and unintentional) juxtaposition of Adrienne Shelly and the screencap of the hanging girl from Suspiria in the post below. I apologize if it seems in poor taste post facto.

Chad Evan said...

I know this ain't a political blog, but since discussion seems to have died down in respect for the tragic news, can we all have one moment of cheerfulness in celebration of the Republicans losing congress and, best of all, the fall of Rummy? Too bad there's no statue of him to tear down and dance atop.
Will things turn around? I doubt it. But I'm hopeful for the first time in a while.

Anonymous said...

Well, I'm sure fucking not. I live in Virginia, and the passage of the anti-gay marriage amendment has me depressed about politics for the very first time in my life. It signifies to me that this country is not moving in the right direction, and the shift from blue to red only means that the idiots who thought we were sending soldiers to Iraq to have pillow fights are now upset that people are actually dying in a fucking war. I mean, if I considered myself a Democrat I might be more happy about this, but I don't see anything here but a transition from bad ideas to no ideas.

Kim

Rich said...

Also off-topic, but I have to mention - kudos on the recommendation of The Woods a few posts back, Walter. What a treat that thing was. I haven't felt suspense or, well, fear of what was next to come like I did watching that one a few nights ago.

A real pity about the lack of a cinema release. As you rightly pointed out in your review, that thing would have looked wonderful on the big screen. Definitely up there with Ripley's Game (which I was sort of lukewarm about, but nevertheless would have looked stunning in the theatre) for travesties of this sort.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, Kim, another VA resident here, and things are still looking dim. What infuriates me almost as much as people's intolerance is their shoddy knowledge of the law. My mother said when she went to vote someone actually asked, "I say yes if I'm for gay marriage, right?"

Sigh.

-Joe

tmhoover said...

Look on the bright side: Rick Santorum is gone. That's one for our team, right?

permazorch said...

Trust was the first, and still my favorite Hal Hartley movie. From what I've heard from my NYC environs friends, she was a kind, down-to-earth, approachable human. I'm sorry she's gone.

Why isn't Trust readily available on DVD? The traffic signal at the end designates Criterion like nothing else.

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